The spring catalogues have started to arrive (oh, happy days) and the internet is ablaze with photographs of gorgeous summer-flowering bulbs, of which my favourite is the dahlia. It is actually a tuber rather than a bulb, and has a sinister look akin to the mandrake root, which is said to scream when it is pulled from the ground, killing everybody who hears it.
Dahlias, thankfully, do not let out bloodcurdling yells or commit mass genocide, but every time I plant a dusty tuber, I never fail to be astonished that such an evil-looking thing can produce flowers of such magnificent beauty.
The variety is glorious, from delicate daisy-like flowers to the massive dinner-plate cactus forms so beloved of village flower shows. Happily, the dahlia is recovering from its association with the blue rinse brigade. But for those who still harbour a sneaking dislike, all I can say is: you’re missing a trick.
They are fantastic performers, in flower from summer until the frosts cut them down. They make wonderful cut flowers. Those with a bent for the vulgar (that would be me, when it comes to a vase of dahlias) can mix neon-orange with blood-red and deep purple. A more stylish approach would be the dark velvet-coloured forms. Growing them yourself (and they are dead easy) means a constant supply of flowers for the house, because the more often you pick them, the more blooms they throw out.
It is not yet time to plant dahlias, which are tender, heat-loving plants. May is the best month for southern counties, while June is safer in the North (when all risk of frosts has passed). Despite that, now is the best time to order them because the choice is so plentiful and half the joy of gardening is, for me, dreaming up colour combinations and fantasising about the potential beauty of my summer borders.
The more delicate forms are suitable for small gardens and do perfectly well in pots, but the larger flowered varieties take up a lot of space and would behave like football thugs in my tiny garden.
So I am planning to grow them on my allotment, planting them among the artichokes. I think their vivid colours will look well against the silvered leaves of the artichoke plant with its tufted violet flowers. And I can think of no happier day than arriving home with a basket of artichokes and a huge armful of dahlias.
Sarah Raven has a wonderful selection and full growing instructions
The National Dahlia Collection is another good source